Hope is growing in Victoria that Premier Daniel Andrews might announce a long-awaiting easing of virus rules within hours after the state posted no new infections on Monday.
It was Victoria’s first day without new COVID infections since June 9, and came as health authorities accelerated the return of hundreds of crucial coronavirus test results.
Taken in a blitz across Melbourne’s north – where a worrying cluster has grown to 39 people across 11 households – the tests are likely to be returned by early Monday afternoon, hours ahead of schedule.
That might allow Mr Andrews – who is yet to give his daily media briefing – to make an announcement as soon as later on Monday.
Elsewhere, NSW had just one locally acquired virus case on Monday. It is in a patient linked to the Oran Park community cluster who was already in isolation.
There were also three more confirmed infections in people in hotel quarantine.
Earlier, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services testing chief Jeroen Weimar said test results had already come back for 2100 people in the affected northern Melbourne suburbs who were tested on Sunday. All were negative.
“This is one of the best outcomes we could hope to see, but the only reason we’re able to see it is because such a large number of people across the northern suburbs have taken the time since this outbreak was first identified to get tested,” Mr Weimar said.
“Testing continued into the evening last night and we expect to see those results come through today. Testing in these five communities will continue to be a focus.”
Pressure is mounting on Mr Andrews to move forward with reopening Melbourne after he controversially called a “cautious pause” to Sunday’s planned announcement as health authorities battled the suburban cluster.
With Sunday’s so-called “doughnut day” – zero new infections – Melbourne’s benchmark 14-day average of new cases fell to 3.6. It is well below the five set as a target to take the next steps in winding back virus rules.
But the city has not hit its target of five mystery cases in the preceding fortnight. They were at seven on Monday.
“All five million of us Melburnians are committed to this and we want this to be over but fundamentally we need to have confidence that before we take that step that we have got this thing under control, because there is no turning back,” Mr Weimar said.
“As soon as we ease off the restrictions we are then in a different era – and none of us want to go back to the place we are in at the moment.”
On Sunday, Mr Andrews insisted the state was still on track to reopen before November 1. But he would commit only to making an announcement about reopening by Tuesday.
His delay drew strident criticism from political opponents, as well as some in the business community.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was profoundly disappointing. He issued a joint statement with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, who are both Victorian, highlighting the health and economic impacts of the state’s ongoing shutdown.
“At some point, you have to move forward and put your public health systems to work,” they said.
“The decision to keep businesses closed suggests that there is still not sufficient confidence within the government that their systems can support reopening.”
Federal Labor MP Bill Shorten said he could understand why many Melburnians were disappointed.
“Many businesses probably would have hoped with some indications that we were going to get more restrictions lifted yesterday,” Mr Shorten told ABC radio on Monday.
“I am quietly confident that a further loosening of these restrictions could be announced in the next couple of days, or even by the end of the day.”
Mr Shorten criticised the federal government for bagging the state government rather than recognising the good work of Victorians in suppressing the spread of coronavirus.
Victoria also confirmed no new COVID deaths on Monday. Its pandemic toll remains at 817, while the national toll is 905.